Monday, November 15, 2010

Brookline and the Invention of the Safety Razor

King C. Gillette
King C. Gillette as he appeared in
John William Denehy's bicentennial
history of Brookline (1906)
On this date (November 15th) in 1904, King C. Gillette of Brookline was awarded a patent for a disposable safety razor. He had applied for the patent three years earlier, and first came up with the idea six years before that while shaving in his Brookline home.

Here's how Gillette recalled it in a February 1918 article in the company magazine The Gillette Blade:

I was living in Brookline at No. 2 Marion Terrace at the time [1895], and as I said before I was consumed with the thought of inventing something that people would use and throw away and buy again. On one particular morning when I started to shave I found my razor dull, and it was not only dull but it was beyond the point of successful stropping and it needed honing, for which it must be taken to a barber or to a cutler. As I stood there with the razor in my hand, my eyes resting on it as lightly as a bird settling down on its nest--the Gillette razor was born.

Years of experimentation failed to solve the technical difficulties involved in producing the kind of razor Gillette had in mind.  MIT-trained engineer William Nickerson came to the rescue, joining Gillette in 1901 and perfecting the manufacturing process.  (In the December 1918 issue of The Gillette Blade Nickerson described seeing an early version of Gillette's razor for the first time in the home of Henry Sachs on University Road in Brookline.)

Drawing of Razor for Patent Awarded to Gillette in 1904
Drawing for Patent 775,134 awarded to King C. Gillette in 1904

Sales took off in 1904, the year the patent was awarded, with 90,000 razors sold through the end of the year (according to the Dictionary of American Biography).  With the continued success of the Gillette Safety Razor Company, Gillette and his family moved in 1907 to a large home at 1566 Beacon Street, near Lancaster Terrace.  They lived there for only six years before moving to California in 1913.  King C. Gillette died in Los Angeles in 1932.
Gillette home at 1566 Beacon Street
This house at 1566 Beacon Street was the home of the King C. Gillette family from 1907 to 1913.  It was torn down in 1944.

Further Reading

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